It was a case of perennial winner versus perennial runner-up at the final of the William Hill World Darts Championship at London’s Alexandra Palace on New Years Day.
Having won three of the last six at the Ally Pally, Michael van Gerwen was chasing a fourth world title while Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright was aiming for a first title a few months shy of his 50th birthday.
Known as one of the greatest players never to win a world title, Wright’s record in major finals has been abysmal losing 12 out of 13 with nine of those coming against Dutch thrower. Wright overcame a first-round scare against Noel Malicdem before beating Seigo Asada, Jeffrey de Zwaan, Luke Humphries and Gerwyn Price en route to Monday’s final.
Meanwhile, the favourite, van Gerwen beat off opposition from Jelle Klaasen, Ricky Evans, Stephen Bunting, Darius Labanauskas and Nathan Aspinall to qualify for the final.
The defending champion, who many thought qualified for tonight’s final in cruise control, started like a house on fire breaking Wright in the game’s opening leg despite the challenger hitting a 140 followed by the first 180 of the final. However, Wright didn’t let the early setback deter him as he hit a 13-darter in the second leg to break van Gerwen.
The pair went on to hold each other before Wright took home the first set with a 14-dart leg after van Gerwen squandered a chance to take an early lead.
The noise levels ramped up when Wright hit a 180 with the first three darts of the third leg to break van Gerwen in the second set. The Scotsman would then go on to hold his own and throw another 13-darter to claim the set and race into a 2-0 lead.
The champion had to come out fighting and he did with a 180 off the first three darts of the third set before breaking Wright twice to claim the third set in impressive style.
Wright looked to have gained the momentum once more breaking van Gerwen in the first leg of the fourth set. However, in true champion fashion, the Dutchman hit back with a break of his own before taking out a double eight in the final leg to peg Wright back at two sets apiece.
In the fifth set, the pair broke each other back-to-back once more. Wright then looked in the ascendency when van Gerwen missed six darts at double that allowed Wright to hold despite being behind throughout the leg.
It was a stroke of good fortune but Wright used it to his advantage as he kept his nerve to break van Gerwen and take home the fifth set, checking out at 96 after van Gerwen missed his seventh double in a row.
Wright then moved into a two-set lead yet again after storming his way to victory in the sixth set. Van Gerwen would come back, however, closing the gap to 4-3 but Wright seemed determined not to let the demons of his past come back to haunt him.
The 50-year-old came within two sets of a first world title when he took advantage of van Gerwen’s miss for double tops to check out on double 16 and move into a 5-3 down the home stretch.
While both players were averaging 104, it was Wright who was much the more impressive with a 62 per cent conversion rate at the doubles compared to the champions 42 per cent.
The pair would go on to hold each of their legs in the sixth set. In the final leg, Wright left 130 after nine while van Gerwen had left 100. However, the champion missed two more doubles as Wright took out double tops to move within one set of a historic victory.
That historic victory soon arrived as Wright claimed his seventh set of the night to be crowned the world darts champion. The Scotsman broke down in tears following the win as exorcised the ghosts of his past failures in front a boisterous Ally Pally crowd who were behind him the whole way.
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